Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Prophetic Ministry of a Church in Transition

Those of you who know me know that I spent several summers at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. While I was there, I fell in love with the abbey and the community of monks there. Most of all, I was deeply touched by their faithful life together, a life of daily prayer and simple work.

Being a monastic community at what I would call the birthplace of 20th century liturgical reform in the US does not keep them immune from the turmoils of the broader church. The monks there are somewhat of a microcosm of the crises the church faces. The number of monks continues to dwindle, even as more men are attracted to their lifestyle. The monks are definitely getting older and frailer (my first summer there, we celebrated the 69th anniversary of priesthood of Fr. Godfrey Diekmann, OSB; although he was bound to a wheelchair, he was as fiesty as I had heard him to be). And the community itself has been rocked by scandal and disappointment.

Through it all, their leader, Abbot John Klassen, OSB, had been, and continues to be, a steadfast, simple voice, calling each member of the community back to hope and faith. In his presentation to the Diocese of San José on December 5, 2007, Tom Zanzig mentioned this address by Abbot John. Just as Tom Zanzig said, it is one of the most powerful statements I have heard a church leader speak publicly.

The statement is from 2005, but it is even more relevant today as we near the end of 2007. And although it is addressed to a particular monastic community, it should be a clarion call, an alarm waking us from our sleep. We are blessed here in the Diocese of San José to feel little of the priest shortage that so much of the rest of our country feels. Yet we are not a church unto itself. We are members of a larger church in transition, whether we feel it or not, like it or not. More is changing in this church of ours than just ordination numbers.

"Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new!" (Is 43:18-19)

"I suggest that it is our task as a monastery to facilitate the present Church's passing in order to assist in the birthing of the new" (Abbot John Klassen, OSB).

In this Advent season, we prepare for new birth. Listening to the prophets of this season and to the prophets of our day, we would do well, as a church, to look also at what needs to die so that the new birth promised by God may happen.

Read Abbot John's full statement here.

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